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Posted: 12:14 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014

Woman fights to avoid survey from Census Bureau

The Sapulpa woman finds the questions intrusive, but the Census Bureau stresses the value of the data

American Community Survey
American Community Survey

By Russell Mills


A Sapulpa woman says when she refused to complete a survey from the Census Bureau, they went so far as to send someone to her home to peer into her windows and harrass her family.

Kimberly Hayes says when she first got the American Community Survey in the mail, she went online to fill it out.

You can see a copy of the American Community Survey here.

But some of the questions made her uncomfortable, so she erased as many answers as she could and quit the web page.

That's when the harrassment began, she told KRMG.

She's been threatened with a fine, and Monday a man even came to her home.

"They sent someone to my house, yesterday who started walking around and was looking in windows," Hayes said.

"I've told them I don't want to fill it out. I've told them repeatedly 'just fine me, I'm not going to give this information to anyone.' I think it's dangerous, I don't think that it should be in anyone's hands. No one needs to know when I am gone from home, and what I have inside."

"They're relentless. I mean they're sending people to my home," she added.

KRMG contacted the U.S. Census Bureau, and Tim Olson, Assistant Division Chief of the bureau's Field Division, explained the importance of the survey and obtaining responses from those who receive it.

"There's very, very few people that are included in the survey each year, and those addresses that are selected for the sample, we do our best to let them know how important it is, that it is part of the regular census that started in 1790. And by and large, most people agree to participate."

He says the surveys initially get about a 60 percent return rate, but when the bureau follows up, more than 97 percent of those contacted do complete the survey.

Olson explained that every question on the survey has a specific purpose in helping determine how tax dollars should be spent, for example on roads and other infrastructure.

"When we explain that, people then say 'oh, I'll do it. I want to benefit my community, so that the federal funds that are distributed based on these data really are reflective of my community, and we get our fair share.'"

As for the field interviewers, Olson said their main focus is to communicate the importance of people completing the forms.

"They're trained to be courteous, they're trained to respect the people that they interact with, and they're trained to do a good job, because the data is so important."

Failure to comply is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

However, Olson says, "the Census Bureau is not a law enforcement agency. We are fully reliant upon public cooperation, and so we do not refer people on to the Justice Department for prosecution."

The Census Bureau does still send out a "short form" questionaire every 10 years, but with the rapid changes occurring in modern America, they began sending out the "long-form" version, now known as the ACS, annually.

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